The Coen brothers’ most recent film, a Western set in the late 1800s and adapted from Charles Portis’ novel “True Grit,” ventures into the territory of the light-hearted, whimsical adventure story, complete with a 14-year-old female protagonist and a humorous, crotchety drunkard.
The resolute young girl, Mattie Ross, played by Hailee Steinfeld, provides the driving force for the story. Her single goal in the film is to avenge the death of her father, and she’s the catalyst for the pursuit of his murderer, Tom Chaney. From her very first appearance, we can tell she’d be a perfect lawyer – she’s a fast talker, with every single word serving a purpose. She’s also an officious rascal, a quality that at one point earns her a spanking. Nonetheless, she commands respect from the men in the film, who range from quasi-noble officials to amoral tooth-deficient criminals.
She drags into her band of justice seekers U.S. Marshal “Rooster” Cogburn, played by Jeff Bridges, and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, played by Matt Damon. Cogburn certainly has a presence, and although muffled and at times incomprehensible, he injects humor into each scene through bitter remarks and an honest recognition that he really is too old for this kind of stuff. LaBoeuf, whose enormous mustache matches his inflated ego, is a sensitive creature, and he argues with (or whines at) Cogburn to assert his status. Still, the three traverse together through the Indian Territory to find Chaney, and develop an odd and almost heart-warming bond.
The journey itself does not really prove all too suspenseful or unique. The gang stumbles into some roadblocks, such as crazy cabin men, gunshot wounds and at one point, what appears to be a bear riding a horse, but other than that, their journey is just a stream of wintry images and expansive landscapes. The primary focus of this film seems to be Cogburn’s witty repartees and Ross’s moral temerity, and maybe LaBoeuf’s ridiculous facial hair. The film does not actually give a sense for Western life, but merely has images or phrases of that time plastered onto a work of wry and playful narration, easily recognizable as the familiar and adored Coen brothers’ aesthetic.